Ohio Swipe Card System in the News

The childcare time and attendance system recently implemented in Ohio gets lots of news coverage. Here is an aricle in the Dayton Daily News. There are some comments included about the benefits of biometric authentication versus swipe cards:

Ohio JFS directors prefer a system that would read a child and parent’s fingerprint or palm print to prove a child is actually there, said Joel Potts with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Directors’ Association.

But the state nixed that idea because of cost concerns. There would also likely be concerns from parents over fingerprinting their children, Johnson said.

“The swipe card provides the same benefit at a much lower cost to taxpayers,” Johnson said.

I do not agree with Mr. Johnson that swipe cards provide the same benefit to taxpayers. A swipe card, if it is kept by the provider and not with the child, does not help prevent fraud in any way and produces no better results than the old paper attendance sheets.

Using the old process,  parents were supposed to sign their children in and out daily on attendance sheets, listing the exact time, and leaving a signature. If this was not done every day, there was nothing in place to prevent a parent from signing attendance sheets for an entire month at the end of the month all at once. This means that even if a child was not present, the parent could still indicate otherwise by putting an entry on the attendance sheet, even weeks later. We have found that some auditors actually look at pen and ink consistency for clues as to whether parents filled out attendance sheets in batch, presumably in cahouts with the provider.

The problem with swipe cards, however, goes beyond just leaving them with the provider. Children often are not dropped off and picked up by the same person. Mom may drop off children in the morning, and dad pick them up in the evening. Sometimes babysitters routinely pick up children.  Many parents carpool, which requires that they not only pick up each other’s children, but also the swipe cards. The handing of the swipe cards between various authorized adults causes them to get lost or forgotten. The “fix” for this is for the parent to perform “backswiping” the next day. Typically, the parent then selects a previous date and time that was skipped.

As soon as backswiping is allowed, the system no longer is really a time and attendance system, but just an electronic record keeper.

Biometric authentication of children or parents at least proves that the child or parent was present at a given location at a given time. If backdating is prevented, and if the system has provisions to deal with forgotten entries, a real record of who was present where and when is established.

While biometric scanning is more expensive than swipe cards, it is far lest costly than the fraud that occurs when providers can “make up” ficticious children and claim reimbursement for their care (that never happened).

The concern by parents that their children are “fingerprinted” is valid – but it becomes less and less severe. Fingerscanning is now routinely used in theme parks to get access to rides, health clubs use scanning for their patrons to check in and out, and school cafeterias use scanning as a way for children to pay for school lunches. As a matter of fact, in the case of payment for school lunches, the scanning actually serves as an equalizer, since children that receive free and reduced meals are no longer stigmatized by using a different method of payment than the children buying full-cost lunches.

In today’s world, biometrics are becoming pervasive and are no longer assoicated with criminality as is was in decades past.

Biometric scanning for childcare subsidy programs is far more effective at curbing fraud than swipe cards are.

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